A couple of weeks ago I was teaching my signature workshop, “The Human Factor in Project Management,” for a group of Project and Program Managers looking to improve their overall project leadership skills. During one of the segments, I spoke about a topic I’ve been deeply concerned about for many years – employee engagement.
I told them how the latest surveys show that in the US, an astounding 68.5% of employees are either disengaged or actively disengaged; which means that only 31.5% of us are engaged in our work. That is certainly a statistic that we all need to be concerned about, since its implications impact us all. As I spoke to them about the #1 cause of employee disengagement (feeling unappreciated for their efforts), one of the students asked me about the numbers worldwide.
I had to admit that I hadn’t really looked at those. So that evening after class, I did some research, and what I discovered was shocking. Globally, the percentage of employees who are engaged in their work is only 13%! Can you believe it?
So, it would seem that once again, we’re Number 1 – although it’s a somewhat dubious distinction in this category. Really, it just reflects the fact that we simply haven’t lowered our standards as much as the rest of the world. Not a ringing endorsement.
As a Certified Professional Coach, one of my goals is to help organizations make significant strides in employee engagement. So in thinking about this month’s newsletter, I thought it might be helpful for me to outline 5 specific ways that you can help move the needle in your organization and increase engagement in your company.
1. Be authentic. I once heard a speaker say, “If you need to tell people that you’re being authentic, then you’re not.” There’s definitely wisdom in that. But it’s a challenge for us to truly be authentic. We are so used to wearing our social mask when we engage with others.
“Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet - thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing - consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.” – Lance Secretan
Listen, I’m not saying you have to show people everything. But most of the time we tend to only show 10-15% of ourselves to those we work with. What would happen if you could be more open with the people you work with? How might that impact the levels of trust in your organization?
Being authentic means being aligned. I am who I say I am. It doesn’t mean people will automatically like you. But it does mean they might actually feel as though they know you. And that is a critical component when you are seeking to build relationships and instill trust.
2. Be transparent. I realize this may seem the same as point #1, but just follow me for a moment and you’ll see the distinctions. Transparency is about being open, honest, and trustworthy in the moment. If I’m feeling challenged as a leader and uncertain about the solution to a specific dilemma, then speaking to that is actually a courageous act.
“The worst thing you can do is try to manipulate or control perceptions. It's impossible, and when you are found out the result is disastrous. Better to be transparent and play well with others so that when bad things happen you have a reservoir of good will to bank on.” – John Gerzema
We don’t feel comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” when we know that people are looking to us for answers or guidance. A leader’s responsibility is NOT to have all the answers. It is to support the process of finding answers – whether through your own investigations and research, or through guiding and supporting others.
When we can summon the courage to speak openly to a challenge we may be facing, it actually brings people closer to us, and it creates more of a connection because we’re not seen as being superior or unrelatable.
3. Praise and acknowledge good work. This is a concept you’ve heard from me before, and there’s good reason. If the employee engagement research I mentioned shows that the #1 reason employees feel disengaged is that they feel they (and their work) are unappreciated, then this is the bullseye for us to aim for.
“Research indicates that employees have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company.” – Zig Ziglar
When you are praised for your contributions, how does that feel? (Hopefully, you’ve actually had a chance to experience that!) Studies show that we actually feel an increase in our sense of significance or status in the organization when we are acknowledged. And that is a powerful driver of behavior. Remember, what gets rewarded gets repeated.
In fact, the simple act of recognizing someone’s contributions actually has a longer-term affect on their overall performance and engagement than a pay increase. And best of all, it doesn’t cost anything – only a bit of your time and energy. (I’ll write about the proper ways to praise in a future newsletter. For now, just start practicing!)
4. Reward intelligent risk-taking. So often in organizations I hear people saying that they’re afraid to take risks because if they fail, they’re afraid they may lose their jobs. The best companies know that without giving people permission to take intelligent risks, there can be little progress or innovation.
“And people who take risk intelligently can usually actually make a lot more progress than people who don't.” – Reid Hoffman
As a leader, it’s critical to help people cultivate a sense of ownership over their work. One of the best ways to do that is to give them some latitude over decisions. Intelligent risk-taking can be incredibly rewarding to your teams, and they can learn to resolve issues and challenges on their own. Just as being praised can elevate their sense of status, taking risks and learning to solve complex problems can also provide the same result.
5. Connect with your team, get to know them. The premise behind this is rooted not in our psychology, but in our biology. We have an innate need for connection and belonging; we need to feel as though we’re part of something bigger than just ourselves. In fact, feelings of loneliness and isolation are shown to trigger the same part of the brain that experiences physical pain. Which means that to your brain, the need for connection and belonging is a basic survival need.
“Business is about relationships; if you lose the relationship, you lose the business.” – Robin Sharma
It doesn’t mean you have to become best friends with your team or invite them to your home for a BBQ. But it does mean you have to connect. And it’s not all that hard, since we’re already predisposed to seek out connection. The simple act of getting to know someone is a requirement for establishing a relationship, and that relationship is a requirement to establish trust. Build the foundation and the house will stand strong, even when tested by the storm.
Following these 5 steps won’t guarantee smooth sailing for you and your team. What it will do, however, is provide the basis for an engaged, solid team that will stay together in tough times and work through challenges while supporting each other’s success as well as that of the organization.
Put these into practice, and comment below how it impacts you and your team!
Kevin Ciccotti, CPCC, PCC, is an authority in helping leaders to build stronger, more sustainable relationships with their teams, helping them to drive engagement, increase productivity, and lead to greater overall success. He is passionate about helping leaders to create an environment in which their people can thrive and achieve their full potential.
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Kevin Ciccotti, Human Factor Formula
Helping companies create sustainable, effective teams that are committed to the success of their projects, the organization, and the individuals with whom they work